London: Ireland have the chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Test history after another England batting collapse yesterday set the scene for a thrilling finish at Lord’s.
When lightning flashes and rain cut short the second day’s play in a match scheduled for four days rather than the usual five for a Test, England were 303-9 in their second innings, a lead of 181 runs.
That represented a colossal improvement on their humiliating first-innings 85 all out but once again their batsmen struggled ahead of next week’s first Ashes Test.
England had been well-placed at 171-1 second time around, a score built on a second-wicket stand of 145 between nightwatchman Jack Leach, who made 92, and Test debutant Jason Roy (72).
But England’s top-order let them down again, with seven wickets falling for 77 runs either side of tea as they slumped to 248-8 on a ground where just 11 days earlier they had won the World Cup.
Sam Curran, not for the first time in his short career, then added valuable lower order runs with a brisk 37 featuring two sixes before he holed out and Stuart Broad was 21 not out at stumps.
Ireland are playing in just their third Test, with the visitors losing on debut to Pakistan last year and against fellow newcomers Afghanistan in March.
But that did not stop them routing England on Wednesday, with seamer Tim Murtagh taking a superb 5-13 on his Middlesex home ground.
England resumed yesterday on their overnight 0-0 after Ireland had made 207, featuring Andrew Balbirnie’s 55.
Unexpected opener Leach, who survived a Murtagh maiden on Wednesday, played watchfully but made the most of any loose deliveries.
Left-hander Rory Burns fell for six when he pushed hard at a Boyd Rankin delivery and edged a simple catch to wicketkeeper Gary Wilson.
Roy, looking to make England’s problem position of Test opener his own after starring in their World Cup triumph, off-drove a four off paceman Mark Adair and hoisted off-spinner Andy McBrine for six.
Leach went to 47 with a straight-driven four off Stuart Thompson before his edged boundary through third man off the medium-pacer saw the Somerset left-arm spinner, playing his first Test at home, to his fifty.
Roy cut Thompson for his seventh four to complete a 47-ball fifty in just his second Test innings but the attacking batsman was denied a century on debut by a Thompson in-ducker that bowled him.
The bespectacled Leach, having surpassed his previous first-class best of 66, was dropped twice until eventually a defensive edge was held by Adair off the bowling of Murtagh.
Leach, who had been in sight of an achievement that eluded batting greats Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar – a Test hundred at Lord’s – walked slowly off to a standing ovation after batting for 220 minutes and facing 162 balls, hitting 16 fours.
England suffered a self-inflicted wound when Joe Denly was run out after being sent back by captain Joe Root when the skipper was already two-thirds of the way down the pitch.
The impressive Adair (3-66) then had Jonny Bairstow lbw for a duck.
Root, whose 31 took 64 balls, tried to break the shackles by going down the pitch to Adair only to see an edged drive well caught high to his right by the diving Wilson.